Charo Bhatt, Broker Associate, Luxury Property Specialist
(510) 381-2105

Your Guide to Purchasing Bank-Owned Properties

What to know and what to watch out for


On the face of it, short sales, foreclosures, and REOs may look like the

same thing, but they are different. As pointed out in the Realty Times’ August

15, 2007 article entitled, Foreclosure Basics :Foreclosures, Short Sales and

REOs, if you enter the “market wanting to ‘do foreclosures,’ without understanding the entire process, you could wind up in trouble.”



What are the differences between short

sales, foreclosures, and REOs?


What is a short sale? Short sales occur when the value of the property is less than the

encumbrances. As the Realty Times article points out, short sales are attractive “because lenders often agree to take less than what is owed on the property. The idea here is that you are saving the lender time and money” by avoiding the foreclosure process. Some lenders may

agree to a short sale after a default has been filed


What is a foreclosure? As the Realty Times article points out, “When a property is in foreclosure, the owner has stopped making payments and the lender has given

the borrower a written Notice of Default that the payments must be brought up to date or the property will be sold off. The notice is a public document (which is why so many websites offer foreclosure lists). It normally takes about two missed payments for a lender to issue

a Notice of Default, but not always.” The property is then sold through a public auction process


What is an REO? As the Realty Times article points out “If no-one bids high enough to meet the lender’s price at auction, the foreclosure completes and title transfers to the lender. Real Estate Owned means the property is owned by the lender.” The article went on to point out that “Some investors see REO homes as the best way to buy property because there are no emotions involved: it's strictly business between the investor, their agent, the lender, and its agent.

And because most lenders aren't landlords (nor do they want to be), investors can often get a very reduced price.”


So if you are interested in buying a bank-owned property,

here’s what you should consider


Get Pre-Approved and Be Ready to Act

In the REO market, competition can be fierce. It’s not uncommon for there to be multiple offers on bank-owned properties. Just as you are looking for a bargain, so are many other buyers. You should be financially prepared to make a down payment and you should have a pre-approval

letter from a lender in place before making an offer


Know Where and How to Look

REOs are usually listed on the Multiple Listing Service and can be found on the majority of websites that feature properties for sale. There are also several websites that specialize in foreclosed properties. You can see which properties are in the process of foreclosure on or find homes that have already been foreclosed upon by checking

sites like, and Many lenders also have their foreclosed properties listed directly on their websites.


Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

In all likelihood, you will not be “wowed” when walking through the door of an REO. Most are sold “as is.” In the months leading up to foreclosure, the homeowner may have disregarded maintenance and let the condition of the home deteriorate. Do not be surprised if you

see homes stripped of appliances, light fixtures and any other items that can be sold. In the worst case scenarios, homes fall victim to vandals and transients who take advantage of a vacant property. It’s not always a pretty sight, but for buyers who are looking for a challenge,

or who can afford the time and effort involved in buying an REO, these types of

properties may be right for you.  


It May Take Longer Than You Expect

Each bank/lender works a little differently, but they all have similar goals. They want to get the best price possible; they have no interest in “dumping” the real estate they own cheaply. Generally, banks have an entire department set up to manage their REO inventory, and in

this current market, with the increased number of bank-owned properties those departments are often back-logged for days, if not weeks and thus cannot always respond quickly to offers or other inquiries. Once an offer to purchase is made, banks generally present a “counteroffer.”

It may be at a higher price than you expect because the bank has to be able to demonstrate to its investors, shareholders and auditors that they attempted to get the highest price possible. You are then free to accept, reject or counter the bank’s counter-offer. Your offer or counter-offer will probably have to be reviewed and approved by several individuals and/or other companies. As such, this process may take several days to complete. It is important when purchasing a bank-owned property that you understand that the timing is often much longer and drawn-out than

a typical resale. Simply put, you should be prepared to


Understanding the Property Condition

Banks typically sell a property in “as is” condition. Some banks will agree to provide a Section 1 Pest Certification, but not unless that requirement is included in the final contract. Banks will usually allow you to get all the inspections you want (at your expense), but they

probably will not agree to do any or all repairs. Offers to buy REO property may include an inspection contingency period that allows you to terminate the sale if the inspections reveal

defects that the bank will not correct and that you might not want to accept. Be aware that some banks require use of their own contract forms which do not include the same types of provisions as standard Realtor forms. In those situations you should review the bank’s purchase

contract documents with your own real estate attorney. Even if you have agreed to buy the property “as is,” you may request that the bank make repairs or give you a credit after you have completed the inspections. Some banks will re-negotiate to save the transaction

instead of putting the property back on the market, but that possibility should not be taken for granted. Most banks will not provide financing on their REOs but it doesn’t hurt to ask.



Making the Offer

Before making an offer, have your Agent contact the Listing Agent and ask the following questions:

• Are there any inspection or repair reports?

• What work has the bank performed and/or what work will the bank

agree to perform?

• How long do you anticipate that it will take the bank to accept an


Offers are usually faxed to the bank. The Listing Agent needs your originals. There is generally no formal presentation. Keep in mind: nothing happens on evenings and weekends as banks are closed. The keys to remember are: You should have sufficient money available to put down a reasonable deposit; you need to be pre-approved by a reputable lender; your offer should contain reasonable, straight forward contingencies and the offer should specify a closing date that

is within a reasonable amount of time. The combination of these factors can position you as a stronger buyer in the eyes of the bank.


What are Some of the Pitfalls to Watch Out For with


• Determine all fees associated with purchasing the property.

There may be hidden fees like liens, unpaid taxes, penalties, etc. to contend with.

• How low will they go? Lenders may not be willing to negotiate the price down from market or close to market. This is especially true in areas where home values have fallen further than lenders want to acknowledge.

• Be prepared for a counter. Because the sale of bank-owned properties are becoming increasingly popular and therefore, competitive, we are seeing cases in which banks are countering at an amount that is above the original list price. These actions can discourage

some buyers.


There Are No Guarantees in Buying REOs

On the surface, it might sound like a bank-owned property is a steal but if the bank wants to sell its inventory on the open market for the amount of money that was once owed to the bank, it may not be as good of a deal as one might think. Couple that with the fact that bankowned properties are not always left in the best condition; a great deal of work and money may be needed after escrow closes to improve the property. When considering the purchase of an REO, you need to look closely at comparable sales in the neighborhood and be sure to take into account the time and cost of any repairs or remodeling that may be needed. In most cases, banks do not want to indefinitely hold on to their inventory as it isn’t in the bank’s best interest to let the property

sit. Therefore, some banks have incentives to price a home for less than market value just to get rid of it. However, while it is true that banks are typically anxious to sell bank-owned property quickly, they are also strongly motivated to get as much as they can for it. The bottom line is that although bargains with bank-owned properties exist, it is important to understand the pitfalls that may also exist in buying REO property. That is why it is imperative that when you do decide to explore the purchase of a bank-owned property that you do so with the aid of a professional, experienced Realtor, like myself, who will guide you through the intricacies of this type of transaction. If you are ready to explore the opportunities available in today’s real

estate market, please contact me today: